Patent Commissioner Peggy Focarino to Retire

By Gene Quinn
April 28, 2015

Peggy Focarino

Peggy Focarino, Commissioner for Patents, speaks to attendees at the March 1, 2012, event for Women Entrepreneurs on the campus of the USPTO in Alexandria, VA.

According to an email sent to USPTO employees earlier today, United States Patent and Trademark Office Commissioner for Patents Margaret (Peggy)  Focarino has announced that she will retire effective July 3, 2015.

In reaching out to the USPTO to confirm this report I was provided the following statement from USPTO Director Michelle Lee:

“Peggy has been an inspiration to so many individuals who have aspired to further American innovation through public service,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and USPTO Director Michelle K. Lee. “Since 1977, when she began her career as a patent examiner, she has proven to be a role model of professionalism and dedication. Her tenure as Commissioner for Patents occurred at a historic moment in the patent system’s 225-year history, during the enactment of the transformative America Invents Act. I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with her over the last several years, and congratulate her on an extremely successful career.”

Focarino has been a long time employee of the United States Patent and Trademark Office, first starting with the USPTO in 1977 as a Patent Examiner.  She became a Supervisory Patent Examiner in 1989 and was promoted to the Senior Executive Service in 1997.  In January 2005, Focarino was promoted to Deputy Commissioner for Patent Operations, a role that made her responsible for all patent-examining functions in the eight Patent Technology Centers and all operational aspects of patent application initial examination, patent publications, and international Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications processing. Upon the resignation of Jon Dudas from the USPTO in January 2009, then Commissioner for Patents John Doll rose from his post as Commissioner for Patents to become the Acting Director of the Patent Office.  At this time Focarino was promoted to Acting Commissioner for Patents. Upon Director Kappos assuming control of the Patent Office, Focarino was retained on the senior management team, with the creation of a new position — Deputy Commissioner for Patents. Subsequently, after Commissioner Bob Stoll retired, Focarino was promoted, this time being appointed Commissioner for Patents.

One of my first high-profile interviews was with Focarino back in May 2009. I had another opportunity to interview Focarino in February 2012, after she was permanently appointed Commissioner.

Peggy is extremely well respect and has a reputation as a “doer.” While there are capable deputies in the wings there is no doubt that the Patent Office will lose a key leader when Focarino steps down. We wish her well as she moves into he next chapter of her life.

The Author

Gene Quinn

Gene Quinn is a Patent Attorney and Editor and President & CEO ofIPWatchdog, Inc.. Gene founded IPWatchdog.com in 1999. Gene is also a principal lecturer in the PLI Patent Bar Review Course and Of Counsel to the law firm of Berenato & White, LLC. Gene’s specialty is in the area of strategic patent consulting, patent application drafting and patent prosecution. He consults with attorneys facing peculiar procedural issues at the Patent Office, advises investors and executives on patent law changes and pending litigation matters, and works with start-up businesses throughout the United States and around the world, primarily dealing with software and computer related innovations. is admitted to practice law in New Hampshire, is a Registered Patent Attorney and is also admitted to practice before the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. CLICK HERE to send Gene a message.

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Discuss this

There are currently 8 Comments comments.

  1. John White April 28, 2015 7:38 pm

    Peggy; thank you for your devoted service to the U.S. Patent System. We can only hope that someone as committed as you is waiting in the wings! Best of luck in retirement.

  2. Curious April 28, 2015 7:55 pm

    I cannot say I have any personal knowledge as to whether or not she did a good job. However, I have long experience dealing with the people she oversees, and I have not been impressed.

    A lot of what happens at the USPTO is driven by those at the top. That is all that needs be said ….

  3. Night Writer April 29, 2015 7:40 am

    So in Peggy we had a real professional, what are we going to end up with Lee? Lee is scary. She keeps making her comments about other ways to promote innovation than patents, which is a policy statement and mostly out of scope of her job duties. What scares me is that Lee is going to appoint a hatchet person to replace Peggy. We should all be afraid of Obama. He has many advisors that know how to play these games.

    I wish Lee would focus on her job. To my mind, most of the problems with the patent system can be solved with big data. The fact that Lee doesn’t understand this is probably attributable to her having little to no experience in patent prosecution.

  4. Night Writer April 29, 2015 7:46 am

    Curious, I tend to agree with you. I have been doing prosecution work now for over 10 years. It has become more and more unpredictable. The SCOTUS cases have largely made the process more dependent on what a person judges your claims to be without regard to evidence or objective criteria. With big data, better searches and TSM would vastly improve patent quality.

    What we need is someone that has a deep understanding of prosecution and a deep understanding of technology and automation process.

    What we are going to get is a person that Lee puts in to make it harder to get a patent regardless of the merits. (and probably less predictable.)

    I wish those of us that support patents could come up with objective ways of expressing and bringing to the press’s attention the deterioration of the patent system.

  5. Anon April 29, 2015 8:44 am

    Apologies a forehand for the duplicate post – here and on the “Biggest Problem Thread”….

    One comment that I find troubling from Miss Lee is the comment geared to a “too powerful” patent.

    Director Lee took the opportunity to say that rights that are too strong can inhibit innovation, saying: ‘There is a range in which it is optimal to operate… I spend a lot of time making sure we end up in that range.’

    Such a view can only be made with hindsight, and with subjectivity , or conversely, with “objectivity” of market effects (again hindsight).

    This strays away from the truly objective role of the Office to examine according to the law. If that is achieved, then it truly matters not whether a granted patent is “too powerful,” as the benefit of the benefit of the patentee’s contribution will be in equal measure to the power of the patent.

    The focus should be on Quid Pro Quo, and the “notion” of “too powerful” will take care of itself.

    This thought of somehow (subjectively) impacting future innovation by granting a patent that is “too strong” is offensive in several ways, not the least of which is that it assumes future harm (which by its nature cannot be shown), and is reflective of a judicial fallacy which violates the “no advisory opinions” rule of law, as well as the basic notion of a present case or controversy or even a (related) cause for present standing – since no present party can be said to have already suffered this supposed harm of “future”-being-blocked. The Supreme Court is fond of taking shots at the patent bar for our work as “scriviners.” Perhaps it is time that their own “scrivining” is “judged” just as critically.

  6. Agi Vezer April 29, 2015 9:28 am

    If I may, I nominate Greg Aharonian for Ms. Focarino’s position.

  7. Night Writer April 29, 2015 9:53 am

    Those are pretty good points Anon. What bothers me about all the new SCOTUS case law is it basically is let a fact finder look at it and decide based on how they feel. That is terrible law.

    Here we see the noxious fruit of the SCOTUS in Lee with her feeling empowered to feel she can judge what a too strong patent is. Notice that she does not discuss the specifics. If Lee had a lot of prosecution experience, and was making statements about 102, 103, or 112, then I would not have a problem. For example, she could be saying that she wants to increase the enforcement of enablement for the full scope of a claim. OK. At least we can discuss this and then look at actually cases. But, “too strong” is like “don’t like,” it means the sovereign becomes a tyrant, and in this case a tyrant that is being lead by big corp.

  8. Curious April 29, 2015 4:07 pm

    There is a range in which it is optimal to operate… I spend a lot of time making sure we end up in that range.’
    I am very uncomfortable with that statement. There is no place in US patent law to accommodate one’s person subjective belief as what is the optimal range in which a patent should operate.

    Like Night Writer, if Lee was making these comments in the context of 102/103/112, then I would be OK. Without hearing these words in the context of the rest of her comments, I cannot say what her intent may or may not have been.